384th post: My experience installing OSes

(written on 19 May 2009)

Until recently, I have been installing operating systems on various systems. This includes installing OSes via a virtual PC for many years now. I shall discuss on how I installed them and how it went. However, do note that I have never used any Mac OS operating systems long enough to know where everything is as the only time I get to use them is at an electronic store or when visiting a media/arts college before someone drags me away.

Unless otherwise mentioned, formatting the drive is required and, in some cases, partitioning too. This means that all data previously on it would be erased.

MS-DOS (virtual): Since the host machine has an actual floppy disk, I used that to start the installation. I don't know how different the version I used is compared to the one that came with Windows 95, but it did run games like Doom and Wolfenstein 3D fairly smoothly. Since I have already used MS-DOS (or Command Prompt) in latter versions, using it with only the keyboard is not really a problem, but quite slow.

Windows 3.1 for workgroups (virtual): It came together with the above. However, installing it requires ~12 floppy disks. Since they are quite old, I had problems using some of the floppy disks, but after some retries, manage to finish it. Booting up after installing would lead to a command prompt. Typing "win" would start booting into windows. In some cases, I might also need to head to "C:\Windows" before the "win" command works. Not sure if it's normal, but I see the Windows boot-up screen for quite a long time before I gave up.

Windows 3.1 (virtual): This happened on a PC that did not have floppy disks, so instaling it was a challenge. At first, I used whatever version I had, but asked for a specific version of MS-DOS to be installed first. After *ahem* obtaining the virtual images and done installing, I did manage to use a bit of the Windows 3.1 interface, which was confusing and did not contain features I use frequently in latter versions. Double-clicking on the button at the top left would close the window (you can do the same action in Windows 7 at the same spot too even though there may not be visibly anything there) and the up & down arrows would maximize and minimise. Minimized windows are represented as icons on the desktop. Like MS-DOS, files are in the 8.3 format.

Windows 95 (virtual): I used the same CD as the one that came with the PC father bought in 1997. Not sure about the exact specifications, but I know it ran at 166Mhz. I think it's version B as it has IE3 insalled, but I can't connect to the internet even though the virtual machine network settings are the same for the latter versions. It however, is the best OS to run MS-DOS based applications and games. Installing it, however, is strange. Since the CD wasn't bootable, I had to use the Windows ME installation disc just to access it. Besides that, everything went smoothly. Oh, installing IE4 from IE3 would upgrade the interface to that found in Windows 98, but when upgrading to IE5 from IE3, the older interface still remains, but typing a local address like "C:\Documents" in the address bar in IE5 would have the new interface to appear. Did not detect an UDF-formated iso image.

Windows ME (hardware & virtual): Went fairly smoothly as the CD was bootable. Managed to get on the internet and install all the updates avalable. However, did not detect NTFS-formated discs (unless via a network). Text that were in Japanese appeared as underscores, squares, mojibake or question marks (at least, in the English version before applying updates). Copying that text would only copy that messed up text instead of what it is supposed to be. Loading thumbnails of files stored via the network seem to take forever and there is this weird interface (which is also present in windows 95, 98 & XP) of displaying random network folders instead of avalable PCs on the network. To access that would mean clicking on a not-so-obvious link there. Like any MS-DOS based version of Windows, the chances of the OS to freeze for some reason, and most likely a BSoD to appear too, is quite high. Does anyone know what is the Active Desktop for? It's automatically disabled after it crashes, resulting in an ugly white backgroud.

Windows XP SP1 32-bit (hardware & virtual): I have 2 Windows XP discs: Upgrade (from Win98) and OEM. Except for the annoying activation crap (which did not exist in earlier versions and were only relaxed in SP3 and Vista), things go fairly smoothly. Unless not technically possible, it even download updates before it starts installing. Except via 3rd party apps (like DOS-box), MS-DOS apps don't seem to work well. I tried Wolf3d: it ran, but there was no auido.
Due to delays, understated system requirements, and complains that are now alreay fixed for Vista, Windows XP actually lasted longer than Windows 3.1, 95, 98, and ME combined and with a lot of updates which is a nightmare from each fresh install involving multiple reboots. After it passed validation that is. At one time, I was surfing around to download my favorite programs before upgrading to SP2, the PC was shortly infected by viruses and spyware that it would be more worthwhile to reinstall Windows XP than to bother removing them. Eventually, I have to manually turn on the firewall before physically connecting it to the internet, only to find 99+ critical updates before SP2 appeared. Only the primary PC that had WinXP pre-installed was further upgraded to SP3.
Unless enlarged, text rendering is awful, even with Cleartype enabled. If cleartype is not enabled, it would look similar to 9x and 2k. The GUI seemed like a joke when compared to Mac OS X or Linux at time of release and probably dated as it was released 8 years and is still being used today.

Windows 7 Beta 32-bit & RC 64-bit (hardware): Seeing that other PCs in the house are already struggling with Windows XP, I installed it on my 2007 laptop with Vista. Since the total HDD space was split into 2 (3 actually) partions when I got it, I used the partion that was not used by the existing OS as the drive to install Windows 7 on. Of course, I moved the files to an external drive before I started installing.
Installing from scratch is quite fast compared with all the earlier versions and need not be attended until installation was done. (Though the PC might restart several times during that time.) Surprsingly, the folders from before the installation are still on the same drive partition after the installation. After installation, the differences from Vista are obvious: apart from better performance than Vista on the same hardware, traditional apps like Paint are given a makeover and a major revamp since Windows 95 about the taskbar. Text rendering is still horrible compared to current versions of Unix-based OSes.
For now, new features for the taskbar like having the controls to appear when hovering over the taskbar icon when running only works for WMP12 or tabs in IE8 appear as groups for each window & tab. Competitor's equilivant of those currently only function as a normal single window for each instances of the app. Except for some of my visual novels in some non-standard installation procedure, 32-bit applications would work in the 64-bit version that are distinguished from the 64-bit programs with the 32-bit apps in the "Program Files (x82)" folder. However, in the non-standard case, running it would not work with an error message or nothing happening. Changing the compatibility mode to "Windows 98 SE" with admin privilages didn't help. Running a virtual machine of an earlier (or 32-bit version) OS or via a 3rd-party app/patch is the only workaround to this.
Found it odd that the theme sounds are not playable in Windows XP even though both are .wav files. Wallpapers are nice though.

Fedora Core 1 (hardware): (I know version 11 was out since 26 May) The first Linux OS that I actually install on the PC. Was amazed at how nice the installation GUI was (compared to WinXP) and the user-freniliness of drive partioning. I can easily visualize what partition of which drive I would be installing to, make additional partions, and select from a wide range of file systems. Also, I was also happy that I was able to install a large range of display languages and be able to install more or change by just selecting it, or the very least, after a reboot. This is something Windows doesn't have. Sure there are multiple language versions, but the commonly used version of any Windows versions does not allow (or have) the ability to change the display language, they only have text input and display support. However, like any Linux OS I have used, installing program (especially hardware drivers) is a nightmare. I used to know how to install, but now I have forgotten.

Knoppix 3.2 (hardware): The first Linux OS that I have ever used. The fact that I could run an OS off a CD was quite new to me. Although loading time was slow and everything since starting the OS would be wiped out unless saved to somewhere, I actually like the interface (compared to Windows) and the programs are interesting. The AA app that has graphics rendered as ASCII, which looked cool. (Before Win7,) I also found the ability to easily see the devices connected quite useful. Except for images, .ogg and .mp3 files, opening media is somewhat of a challenge. Not sure if it's a version or hardware thing, but I need to open the audio mixer before I can hear any audio. Oh directories for drives needs getting used to. "C:\" in Windows for the first partion of the first drive would become "/dev/hda1" (or is it "/mnt/hda1"?) in Linux. All sucessefully detected drives, including USB drives, appear at a corner of the desktop. Konqueror was interesting too.

Ubuntu 8.10 (hardware & virtual): Since the last I used a Linux OS (Fedora 1), I can't help but to come across reviews that this distro of Linux is quite good and is friendly to people who are new to the world of Linux. I took a look: inserted the CD in Windows and it said that I could install it like a software. That same message appears within Guest OSes, including Win95. Though does not work on some, auto-boot with that same disc would allow you to test it before installing (via the icon on the desktop after the live-CD boot sequence) like Knoppix I tested earlier. Most of the apps I normally use in Windows (Inkscape, Firefox) already came pre-installed. VLC Player is easily avalable through the installation manager and their website (videolan.org) provides instructions on how to get it. Strangely, not a direct link to the file. Also, updates for Firefox are through that manager instead of the browser itself. Updates for the OS is there too. (I think.)
Though the default theme matches nicely, I don't like it. With some personalisation, I customised it to my liking and it bare little resemblence to the default. Also, the hardware features of the laptop that mysteriously disappeared when installing Vista SP1 was working again in Ubuntu. Quite useful when image editing or when the scroll mouse is unavalable.
Shame I have to remove it to make way for the Windows 7 Beta and RC though. Might put in 9.10 when I'm done with it though.

Well, this post turned out to be longer than I expected, probably even longer than the usual average of one part of my 2nd or 3rd story. I'll have the next post on 22 July to give you time to read what I had written.


Jonny Tokyo said…
You sure use alot of O/Ses. Not sure why you would go back as far as MS-DOS though, that's got to be painful :-)

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